Candid Comment

Madhuku has ‘lost his voice’
Joram Nyathi

“YOU see, to some of us, the idea was not the amendment of the constitution,” said Dr Lovemore Madhuku. “This was a strategy to continue the fight for a new democratic constitution. So

meone can’t just come from nowhere and claim to be the leader of the NCA. That’s not possible.”

I have always respected Madhuku for his perseverance and persistence in the fight for a new constitution for Zimbabwe.

The reason most of us want a new constitution is so there are sufficient checks and balances between the rulers and the ruled. It is the need for transparency in the running of national affairs. Above all, the idea is to get back the power that was usurped from us by the institution of too powerful a presidency from 1987.

A new constitution would allow us to limit the term of office of the president. He will be made accountable and know that he cannot cling to power if he can’t deliver. In short, the idea of a new constitution is to change the cultural thinking of the people by assuming total ownership of the institution of government. That cultural change should mean that we move from personalities to issues-based leadership.

It becomes easier to judge a leader’s performance when there are measurable issues at stake more than just loud claims about past achievements or one’s role in the liberation war.

It was for its inadequacies in some of these requirements that government’s proposed constitution failed the test in the 2000 referendum, especially the issue of term limits and the powers of the president.

Madhuku and the National Constitutional Assembly — as well as the independent press — had come to symbolise that fight for a new constitution because of their perseverance. In doing so they earned the respect of thousands of Zimbabweans.

Madhuku has been arrested and beaten several times for leading demonstrations in pursuit of these high ideals. We have supported him because of a sense of principle, something noble and achievable that he stood for.

Until last week that is. Madhuku proved that his ideals were not so high or noble after all. He forced an amendment to the NCA constitution so that he could serve another four-year term. He has already served two terms of two years so far as head of the NCA where there has been a clear reluctance to change the leadership. The tragic result has been the NCA’s sudden complete loss of moral high ground and the double standards it has shown in failing to rise above the cheap political opportunism associated with Zanu PF.

The issue is not that hundreds of people voted for the amendment to the constitution so that Madhuku could stay on. It is simply that in one instance of poor judgement or personal greed, Madhuku has lost his voice and moral authority to criticise President Mugabe and all those cronies trying to amend the constitution to allow him to rule until 2010. It is a major blow to the entire civil society movement whichever way one looks at it.

Madhuku took this perilous step at a time when the entire region was winning battles against leaders like Bakili Muluzi, Sam Nujoma and Olusegun Obasanjo for seeking to amend national constitutions for precisely the same reason. Africa is tired of leaders who cannot resist the sweetness of power and whose only reason in seeking national office is personal gratification.

It is damnable enough that the thought ever crossed Madhuku’s mind to amend the constitution. It is more terrible that he turned his dream into a spurious “will of the people”.

Until and unless we move beyond the culture of selfishness and greed, we can forget about developing leaders driven by any high sense of national duty. Without any obvious sense of irony, Madhuku was happy to perch himself on a pedestal and declare that the amendment was necessary so that he could “continue the fight for a new democratic constitution”.

Typical of the thinking of most African leaders, he already sees himself as indispensable to the struggle for democracy instead of seeing the obvious, that he is undercutting his own moral stature and setting a bad precedent by emulating those he has been fighting for overstaying in power.

It reminded me of President Mugabe saying there was no one in his cabinet fit to succeed him. In a similar vein, he argued that no one could have run this country better than he had done. Madhuku declared that nobody could come “from nowhere and claim to be the leader of the NCA”. So early in the day he has forgotten that there were NCA leaders before him and he now sees himself as an institution.

When President Obasanjo accepted the loss of his bid for a third term last week, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki sent him a letter thanking him for setting a good example as an African statesman. It is unfortunate that Madhuku did not see this as ammunition for his organisation to push for support in Zimbabwe. Instead it was in the same week that he told us how indispensable he was in the struggle for democracy!

Nothing beats African wisdom that ushe madzoro. It is our failure to accept this simple adage that has been the bane of the continent. We confuse elected office with traditional leadership where death is the only acceptable arbiter. Leaders who have nothing new to offer still pretend that people love them even if they must resort to violence and vote rigging to remain in power. And those we thought were the torch-bearers in the fight for democracy see no contradiction in adopting the same methods!

The most beautiful constitution will not help us move forward as a society so long we don’t change our culture and take our constitutions seriously. So long as we have no respect for human rights and condone public and institutional violence, a constitution can’t change a culture of violence and impunity. People like Madhuku are not doing us any service in this respect.